Matt Brocklebank looks ahead to the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury and highlights a 25/1 chance that he feels is overpriced.
It says a lot about the regard in which American is held by Harry Fry, and presumably a significant amount of punters too, that he’s maintained his position right near the top of the betting for the Ladbrokes Trophy in recent weeks, in spite of not yet being seen this season.
As Fry keeps his powder dry with the talented and fragile seven-year-old, the likes of Total Recall and Singlefarmpayment, among others, have produced highly impressive 'Hennessy trials' (it’ll be a while before we don’t call it that, won’t it?) and snuggled right in alongside him around the 8/1 mark with many firms.
At the time of writing it's Total Recall who just about edges outright favouritism and that makes a fair amount of sense following his Munster National stroll in early-October. He was deadly under Ruby Walsh and ran out a ridiculously well-handicapped (and well-backed) winner on his first run for Willie Mullins.
Opposing him purely on the basis that there may be a question over his participation – he's also entered in the Troytown the Sunday before Newbury – has some legs, but it's the massive hike up from an Irish mark of 129 to 147 in Britain that looks a more reliable stick with which to beat him.
He didn't scale anything like those heights as a hurdler and it's asking a huge amount for him to improve again on that devastating comeback run – if anything, it wouldn't be the shock of the century to see him 'bounce' to some degree.
Mullins has plenty of other interest at this stage, too, including Acapella Bourgeois in the same silks and plotting the same path as Total Recall as a former Sandra Hughes rep, along with the Munir/Souede lurker Polidam, who's unlikely to make the cut but is a name not to be missed out in any preview for a race in which he is provisionally engaged.
It's regularly trotted out this time of year that Bright Highway in 1980 is the only Irish-trained Hennessy winner since the days of Arkle, but not many have tried in the grand scheme of things and the potential challenge this time doesn't end with Mullins.
Gordon Elliott might end up running one of a handful of entries and Mala Beach would be the most intriguing if making the journey, but Noel Meade’s dour stayer Genie In A Bottle is perhaps a more suitable candidate.
He was a warm order for the four-miler at Cheltenham in the spring and didn't run badly at all in fifth but he's improved on that form in three subsequent starts and showed he isn't merely a long-distance plodder when reversing Cheltenham form with Tiger Roll in a Listed race over a trip just short of three miles at Wexford.
However, the strength of the home team runs deep and Singlefarmpayment would surely be even shorter in the betting were the race staged at Prestbury Park. His Cheltenham record, including hurdles, reads 1-1-BD-2-2, and a 1lb rise for his perfect prep at the Showcase Meeting won't stop him winning races this season.
It's going back a bit but his only previous Newbury run resulted in a well-held fourth and, combined with his relatively skinny price, there are reasons to continue the search elsewhere.
Can Singlefarmpayment (2nd) repeat this Cheltenham effort at Newbury?
Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson are clearly the first port of call for many in valuable handicaps such as this and each have several options, the pick of which may be last year's sixth Vyta Du Roc who caught the eye over hurdles at Aintree. His chase mark has dipped 4lb since he couldn't quite match Native River and co when the chips were down 12 months ago and softer ground this time around would also enhance the claims of Henderson's grey.
Rather than row again in with last year's selection, however, it's another horse who has dipped ever so slightly in the ratings that makes most appeal.
Henderson joined an elite band of trainers when winning back-to-back renewals in 2012 and 2013 and while it's a bit too soon to be bracketing Colin Tizzard along with Henderson, Tom Dreaper and Fulke Walwyn, the part-time cattle farmer is blatantly in the big league to stay, and he appears to have a good chance of doubling up.
ROYAL VACATION is arguably best known as the horse who picked up the pieces after Might Bite headbutted the last in the Kauto Star Novices' Chase on Boxing Day, but that's unfair to a horse who subsequently proved himself among the best second-tier novices last term with a resounding handicap success at Cheltenham on Trials Day.
It was exhibition stuff under Paddy Brennan that day, travelling and jumping well near the head of affairs, and importantly showing he is cut out for the battle of a big-field handicap.
He looked miles ahead of the assessor there, running right away up the hill to win by eight lengths from Potters Legend, and he’s set to line up at Newbury off just a 6lb higher mark.
There's good reason for the handicapper loosening his grip a little and that's in part due to the fact his season ended with being pulled-up in the RSA Chase at the Festival, and suffering the same fate when dropped back to two and a half miles at Sandown.
However, a recent comeback run in the Listed event won by Guitar Pete at Wetherby's Charlie Hall fixture showed all was well with Royal Vacation physically, and there were definitely positives to take from the effort with a view to his future prospects.
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The intermediate trip again looked on the sharp side, while conceding lumps of weight all round on his first run of the campaign was always going to prove difficult – he had to give the winner, who rates a live contender for Saturday’s BetVictor Gold Cup, a full two stone.
He was far from disgraced, getting in close to one or two fences and clearly finding himself outpaced, before running on again late to claim third. If ever an outing was badly needed it was this one and it should put him spot-on for Newbury, where he looks like being the stable's number one with Sizing Codelco and Theatre Guide both trading at much greater prices.
Theatre Guide is no mug himself and he has used the aforementioned Wetherby race as his Hennessy prep in the past two seasons, including when second to Smad Place in 2015.
It’s significant that Tizzard has opted to take that route with Royal Vacation this year and as a seven-year-old Grade One winner who remains totally unexposed over staying distances, he gets the nod at 25/1 (General) in a fascinating puzzle.
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Posted at 2200 GMT on 15/11/17.